The Court of Appeals of Georgia (“Georgia Appellate Court”) held in its opinion dated June 25, 2021, “Because we conclude that Jobe lacked the authority to sign the Arbitration Agreement on Ronald’s behalf, we reverse the trial court’s order compelling arbitration.”
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff was appointed guardian and conservator of Ronald, his father, and Letters of Guardianship and Conservatorship of Adult Ward were issued by the Probate Court of Carroll County in June 2017. The Letters of Guardianship and Conservatorship each provide that the plaintiff’s “authority to act pursuant to these Letters is subject to applicable statutes and to any special orders entered in this case.”
In July 2017, Ronald was admitted to Provident Village at Creekside, “a residential community for senior citizens needing assistance.” The plaintiff signed the Resident Agreement as the “Responsible Party” for Ronald as well as a separate Arbitration Agreement with Provident Village at Creekside. Ronald did not sign either agreement.
While Ronald was a resident of Provident Village at Creekside in 2018, he was shoved by Bowser, an employee of the facility, and eventually died as a result of his injuries. The defendant nursing home answered the Georgia nursing home wrongful death lawsuit and filed a motion to dismiss and compel arbitration. Bowser subsequently answered and filed a motion to join the other defendant’s motion to dismiss and compel arbitration. After a hearing, the trial court granted the motion to compel arbitration as to all defendants and certified its order for immediate review.
Georgia Appellate Court Opinion
The Georgia Appellate Court stated, “[The plaintiff’s] power as guardian and conservator to “[b]ring, defend, or participate in legal, equitable, or administrative proceedings, including alternative dispute resolution,” did not extend to signing the voluntary pre-dispute Arbitration Agreement on behalf of Ronald. Accordingly, Ronald did not assent to the terms of the Arbitration Agreement, and it is not enforceable against him.”
The Georgia Appellate Court further stated, “lack of assent to the contract’s terms is a generally applicable contract defense and thus may invalidate an arbitration agreement consistent with the FAA [Federal Arbitration Act]. An arbitration “agreement is, at base, a contract, and the [FAA] does not require parties to arbitrate when they have not agreed to do so,” noting that “the FAA permits arbitration agreements to be declared unenforceable upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract. This saving clause permits agreements to arbitrate to be invalidated by generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability, but not by defenses that apply only to arbitration or that derive their meaning from the fact that an agreement to arbitrate is at issue.”
Source West v. Bowser, A21A0055.
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